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How to Stop Wasting Time

How to optimize our most precious and always dwindling currency.

Key points

  • Time is unique among all other forms of human capital in that it is non-recoupable.
  • How one spends time is perhaps one of the most critical, constantly recurring choice points they face.
  • It is vitally important to allocate and spend time on activities, interests, and relationships people enjoy that enrich their lives.

Time is, perhaps, the most precious commodity we have. It is unique among all other forms of human capital in that it is non-recoupable. All other forms of currency can be replenished except for time. Related to it, but quite separate from time is the ultimate commodity of health. Yet even lost health can be recouped in many cases. But not a nanosecond can ever be replaced once it is spent, lost, or simply passed.

What are the primary forms of human capital I am referring to? They are time and health, social, emotional, professional, and actual currency (I will leave religious and faith-based matters out of this discussion for the sake of secular simplicity). And all of them except time can be replenished, reacquired, or regained, to a greater or lesser extent.

To elaborate, social capital often refers to one’s status, standing, respect, or approval in one’s social orbit. We acquire it primarily through acts of kindness, friendship, and support towards other people. We spend it when we ask for favors, impose on or inconvenience our friends and others. But if you lose a friend, you can still gain other friends.

Emotional capital essentially refers to love and fun. We usually get love from our romantic partners, families, core friends, and even though our beloved pets. But if we suffer even heartbreaking loss of love—from death, divorce, or other relationship ruptures—we still have an excellent chance of reacquiring some. Of course, we can never replace the unique love we cherished from someone we’ve lost, but it is still possible to regain a similar “flavor” of love from someone else. Similarly, if we lose a source of fun, we can always find enjoyable alternative outlets.

Professional capital refers to a currency similar to that of social capital, only it operates within our professional domain. For instance, I am spending some of my professional capital if I gently impose on a colleague to preferentially accept an important referral despite the fact their practice may be close to full. And suppose I commit a professional faux pas that cost me some of my professional credibility. In that case, it is entirely possible for me to regain my good standing in the professional community.

Actual currency is just that: liquid assets invested capital and property. If one loses money, it is relatively easy to acquire more. You can lose 20 bucks, find 20 bucks, earn 20 bucks, or even steal 20 bucks.

Time, alternatively, is totally irretrievable and unrecoverable. Once you’ve spent a second, you will never get it back. Every moment is unique and will never come again. We might get a refund if we buy a lousy product or have a lousy experience we paid for, but we don’t get our time back because we had a lousy day. What’s more, time is a commodity that becomes intrinsically more precious the more we spend it. Every day we have just a little less time in that silo of currency than we did the day before. Hence what remains becomes increasingly precious.

Ironically, despite it being the only form of capital we have that appears to be eternal and infinite, time is the only commodity we can never replenish.

Indeed the breadth and depth and transcendent expanse of deep, deep time are unimaginable. And that is where our consciousness was before the moment it blinked into existence. It will blink out of existence in a little while and return to the infinite and the eternal oblivion from whence came.

So be very clever in allocating and spending your precious, irretrievable time. More explicitly, don’t do anything you don’t want to do that you don’t absolutely need to do. Quit the choir if you feel it’s an imposition or no longer enjoyable. Stop playing tennis on Monday nights if you’d like to allocate that time differently. Stop volunteering to take on tasks or assume responsibilities you’d rather not have. And very importantly, stop spending your precious, irreplaceable time in the presence of someone whose company you do not enjoy— unless it’s temporarily necessary because it’s a coworker or a boss (or because you are “taking one for the team“ by spending time with a relative you don’t particularly like).

Just as it’s unlikely we would waste money on experiences we know we won’t enjoy, material things we know we don’t like, or bogus charities, it’s vitally important to allocate and spend time on activities, interests, and relationships we enjoy and enrich our lives. How we use our ever-dwindling and thus increasingly precious time is perhaps one of the most critical, constantly recurring choice points we face. Choose wisely because it seems time really is money. Money of the most precious kind.

Remember: Think well, Act well, Feel well, Be well!

Copyright 2021 Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D. This post is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional assistance or personal mental health treatment by a qualified clinician.

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